I apologize if the following question is off-topic on this site.

Some time ago, I was sitting at a table in a cafeteria/canteen. A few tables away, I saw someone I knew. This person also saw me and patted on the chair beside her while still looking at me. To me, it was clear that she was asking me to move over and sit with her.

My question is, how, where and why did this gesture get the meaning to "come over"?

  • 1
    I don't have an answer, but an observation: Clearly patting can be used together with spoken language for deixis, just like pointing. Roughly speaking, it means "here<sub>1</sub>" where the reference is to the chair you're patting, just as pointing at a chair means "there<sub>1</sub>" or "that<sub>1</sub>", right? The bare utterance "Here" can be construed as a request/command/whatever to come here, so why can't the hand gesture?
    – abarnert
    Jan 13, 2019 at 23:09
  • I'm pretty sure there's more to it than that (e.g., it seems to be not just construable as "come here", but strongly implied to mean exactly that and nothing else), but that might at least be a starting wedge for thinking about the question.
    – abarnert
    Jan 13, 2019 at 23:09
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because gestures like this really aren't linguistic.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 14, 2019 at 10:43
  • @curiousdannii I was afraid that was the case. However, my thinking was that linguistics is defined as "relating to language", where "language" is "the method of human communication" and gesturing is a form of human communication. But I trust your judgement. You have a lot more rep than me on this site.
    – rlgekdcgc
    Jan 15, 2019 at 2:22
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's nothing to do with linguistics Feb 15, 2019 at 8:44

1 Answer 1


I am not knowing enough of English or American culture to make a claim for that, but in German culture the gesture is known as well. It comes from a popular game a children's birthday parties or a Kindergarten. The children are sitting in a round of chairs with one free chair. The left neighbour of the free chair pats the chair and calls out "Mein rechter, rechter Platz ist leer, ich wünsche mir < insert name of a child > her". The called child now tries to change places, but the neighbours can try to hold it back. The game continues this way for some time.

Note that such kind of gestures are arbitrary and culture dependent, don't expect them to mean the same thing in other places of the world.

  • That's an interesting "game". But in your case, the German seems to say that the right is empty and want the person to sit there (explicitly). In my case, there is no explicit "come over" mentioned and I don't think I ever learned this gesture in school.
    – rlgekdcgc
    Jan 15, 2019 at 2:25
  • When the gesture is used by teenagers or adults in Germany, it is understood without words, just gaze is sufficient. Still, I think, the children's game is on their mind. Jan 15, 2019 at 17:38
  • I really doubt the game is the origin of the gesture - much more likely the game uses the common gesture.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 13, 2019 at 23:32

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